An article in the New York Times this past March relayed a common experience with appendicitis. A mid-60’s woman from New York was vacationing in Italy when she came down with nausea, a low-grade fever, and chills. Although her symptoms were extreme enough to leave her bed-ridden, she chalked them up to food poisoning or the flu. When she returned home a week later, she headed to the emergency room, where blood tests and a CT scan revealed a ruptured appendix.

By this point, the woman’s abdominal cavity was severely infected, and she spent five days in a the hospital on intravenous antibiotics, followed by months of antibiotic treatment and abdominal drainage at home. It was four months later before she was healthy enough for her appendix to be removed with laparoscopic surgery via several tiny incisions in the abdomen.

Unfortunately, all too many patients like her fail to realize the symptoms of appendicitis, and that a ruptured appendix is a life-threatening condition. Stabbing abdominal pain is often associated with appendicitis, but not always. Sometimes the symptoms can be flu-like, but are still debilitating.

Patients commonly mistakenly self-diagnosis appendicitis as the flu, or food poisoning, or cramps, and try to tough out the discomfort. It doesn’t help that there are no typical indicators of those at risk for appendicitis. According to general surgeon Dr. Roland B. Weast, MD, FACS, of Premier Surgical Associates at Tennova North Knoxville, appendicitis can occur in anyone at any age, from infants to the elderly.

“Appendicitis is random,” Dr. Weast says. “There is no association with weight, gender, age, or heredity, and it comes on rapidly. Patients usually feel very ill within 12 to 24 hours.”

Abdominal pain, which may begin as a vague or general pain, may become progressively more severe in the right lower quadrant of the abdomen. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and fevers are also often symptoms accompanying appendicitis. But as was the case with the woman from New York, pain can be different for each person.

The important fact to know is if it is appendicitis, the condition will not improve or go away on its own, and the appendix must be surgically removed. If untreated, the infected appendix can rupture and spill bacteria and fecal matter into the abdomen. This can lead to peritonitis, which is a serious inflammation of the abdominal cavity’s lining that is considered a medical emergency that requires prompt surgery.

Fortunately, the appendix is not necessary for survival, and its removal typically cures the appendicitis. Plus, surgical procedures for appendicitis have evolved so far that many can be done laparoscopically, which means smaller and less invasive incisions, less pain, and less time in the hospital. If caught in the earliest stages, an appendectomy can be performed on an outpatient basis.

So if you or a loved one experience any of the symptoms described above, which don’t improve after 24-hours, don’t take the risk of waiting it out—seek medical help immediately to rule out appendicitis

Premier Surgical Associates is the largest general and vascular surgical group in the Knoxville region, providing comprehensive surgical care, with referrals from across the entire East Tennessee region. To learn more about our specialties, visit Premier Surgical Associates.